In less than a day, the main event of the 2019 Mid-Season Invitational will be underway. Champions of China's LPL, South Korea's LCK, Europe's LEC, North America's LCS, Taiwan's LMS, and Vietnam's VCS will gather in Hanoi for a five day Group Stage. The top four teams will move on to the knockout stage in Taipei, which will take place from May 17-May 19.
All six teams may have won their respective regional leagues, but international League of Legends esports continues to remind us that not all champions are created equal. Let's rank the six teams heading into the main event for MSI 2019.
6: Phong Vũ Buffalo
Top Lane - Phạm "Zeros" Minh Lộc
Jungler - Hoàng "Meliodas" Tiến Nhật
Mid Lane - Võ "Naul" Thành Luân
Bot Lane - Đặng "BigKoro" Ngọc Tài
Support - Nguyễn "Palette" Hải Trung
Phong Vũ Buffalo triumphed over last year's VCS representative for MSI EVOS Esports to qualify for its second consecutive international tournament representing Vietnam. Though the competition consists of far less teams, PVB finds themselves as the underdog at MSI.
Throughout the MSI Play-In, Phong Vũ Buffalo exhibited the highest level of play amongst all main stage hopefuls. Meliodas commanded the early game across multiple champions and playstyles, and BigKoro's positioning in late game teamfights has been superb. With the careful guidance of Palette's shotcalling, PVB earned itself the #1 seed out of Group A after winning a tie-breaker with TCL champion 1907 Fenerbahçe.
Phong Vũ Buffalo faced LCS Champion Team Liquid in round 2 of the Play-In and were promptly swept. Solo laners Zeros and Naul, who exhibited high-variance performances throughout round 1, were exposed for their inconsistency. PVB managed to triumph over LCL champion Vega Squadron 3-2 to qualify for the main stage. The team's fast and loose style of play has led to fans affectioally dubbing them 'The Flash Pups' for the similar playstyle to the LMS champion.
If Phong Vũ Buffalo wants to exceed expectations in the group stage, Zeros and Naul will have be a lot more Jekyll and a lot less Hyde while the rest of the team maintains its dominance against a new level of competition. Meliodas remains the team's brightest spot in the early game, but he must be able to depend on his solo laners for PVB to succeed at MSI.
5: Flash Wolves
Top Lane - Su "Hanabi" Chia-Hsiang
Jungler - Lee "Bugi" Seong-yeop
Mid Lane - Shin "Rather" Hyeong-seop [on loan from Griffin]
Bot Lane - Lu "Betty" Yu-Hung
Support - Liu "ShiauC" Chia-Hao
Despite losing its star players over the past few years, Flash Wolves managed to continue its trend of championing the LMS. Korean Jungler Bugi has made everything happen for the Flash Wolves in the early game, a trend that continued in the team's MSI debut in Round 2 of the Play-In.
After dropping the initial first game, Flash Wolves began to do what they do best — take advantage of positive solo lane matchups while Betty becomes the teamfighting powerhouse for the late game as the team's focal point. Flash Wolves defeated Vega Squadron 3-1, eliminating the CIS representative from MSI and qualifying for the main event.
Flash Wolves came into the event with low expectations, with Phong Vũ Buffalo considered by some to be superior to the LMS champion. However, PVB's near-loss to Vega Squadron in the final match of Round 2 of the Play-In puts the Flash Wolves at 5th place. Still, Flash Wolves have a one-dimensional playstyle and are dwarfed individually by several of the players on the major region teams.
4: Team Liquid
Top Lane - Jeong "Impact" Eon-young
Jungler - Jake "Xmithie" Puchero
Mid Lane - Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen
Bot Lane - Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng
Support - Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-In
A 3-2 victory over TSM in the 2019 LCS Spring Finals secured Team Liquid its third LCS championship in a row, as well as the team's second MSI berth. TL came into MSI relatively unchallenged, dispatching of Phong Vũ Buffalo with an easy 3-0 sweep. Any doubts of Impact being able to perform on carry champions should be dashed — the Top Laner has not played a tank in almost three months. However, Team Liquid's stylistic depth remains an issue.
The team looks superb when playing around its superstar duo of Doublelift and 2019 LCS Spring Split MVP CoreJJ, but the team's ability as a whole to win through solo lanes has yet to be seen on a consistent basis. Despite the talent of Jensen and Impact, Team Liquid undeniably looks best when playing around Doublelift.
Xmithie has solidified himself as the best Jungler in North American history, but his tendency to disappear at international events could be cause for concern. Both Xmithie and Doublelift will have to exceed their respective previous international performances for Team Liquid to succeed at MSI.
3: G2 Esports
Top Lane - Martin "Wunder" Hansen
Jungler - Marcin "Jankos" Jankowski
Mid Lane - Rasmus "Caps" Winther
Bot Lane - Luka "Perkz" Perković
Support - Mihael "Mikyx" Mehle
G2's superteam gamble paid off in moving Perkz to the Bot Lane to make room for Caps, as the team cruised to its first LEC Championship. G2 possesses an enormous amount of individual talent on their roster, especially in the team's solo lane. Caps was rightfully awarded the 2019 LEC Spring Split MVP award, and Wunder has been praised worldwide for his consistency, flexibility, and fundamentals.
G2 Esports is known for its incredibly creative style of play, often flexing multiple champions in roles other teams around the world have yet to showcase. Perkz history as a Mid Laner gives him a unique edge on Bot Lane mage champions, but as a team, G2's willingness to experiment is the highest of any team in the world. In game 2 of the LEC Spring Finals against Origen, G2 pulled out the first funnel composition of 2019 to counter the ever-popular Sona/Taric Bot Lane duo.
G2's only concern comes in the form of Mikyx's wrists. The Support took time off near the end of the season and was replaced by Hampus "promisq" Mikael Abrahamsson. While Mikyx may be able to hold his own against world class supports, if his wrists render him unable to play, G2's top 3 status may be in jeopardy against the likes of the battle tested Bot Lane of Team Liquid. Fortunately, G2 Head Coach Fabian "Grabbz" Lohmann confirmed via twitter that Mikyx was ready.
Promisq will still be waiting in reserve for the LEC champ, but if G2 wants to take aim at an MSI Finals appearance or championship, Mikyx will need to be at full health when the time comes.
2: SK Telecom T1
Top Lane - Kim "Khan" Dong-ha
Jungler - Kim "Clid" Dae-min
Mid Lane - Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok
Bot Lane - Park "Teddy" Jin-seong
Support - Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong
The most decorated organization in League of Legends history has made its triumphant return to glory. After a forgettable 2018, SKT returned to form with a 2nd place finish in the 2019 LCK Spring Split. SKT ramped it up once more in the LCK Spring Playoffs, sweeping Kingzone DragonX in the semifinals before sweeping 1st seed Griffing out of the LCK championship.
SKT rebuilt its entire roster around Faker, and enter the tournament as the most well-balanced team of the MSI main stage. Its trademark methodical, controlled pace has a lot more punch to it than years past in the form Khan and Clid on the top side of the map, and LCK Finals MVP Teddy and Mata form the best bot lane ever in SKT's illustrious history.
Faker will be looking to reclaim his throne as the best League of Legends player in the world, but to do so, SK Telecom T1 will have to get through the 2018 World Champion.
1: Invictus Gaming
Top Lane - Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok
Jungler - Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning
Mid Lane - Song "Rookie" Eui-jin
Bot Lane - Yu "Jackeylove" Wen-Bo
Support - Wang "Baolan" Liu-Yi
The reigning World Champions enter MSI as the favorite of the event, slightly edging out SKT. Invictus Gaming swept JD Gaming in the 2019 LPL Spring Finals and will return to the international stage in Hanoi to extend its reign as the best League of Legends team in the world.
Invictus Gaming has some of the worst warding stats in the world — they ward barely more than half the amount that SKT does — but the team's enormous wealth of talent seems to render this statistic irrelevant. Korean solo laners TheShy and Rookie remain the best in the world at their respective roles, and Bot Laner Jackeylove is a rising talent in his own right. Jungler Ning and Support Baolan have built upon their World Championship performances and faciliate the tripod of strong IG carries.
This doesn't even account for the fact that IG have 2-time World Champion Lee "Duke" Ho-seong on the bench. With the meta still favoring the aggression that Invictus Gaming has nearly perfected, the LPL and World champion stand alone as the strongest team heading into the main stage at MSI.
The teams representing the four major regions have the potential to be the best their respective regions have ever seen. However, Phong Vũ Buffalo, and potentially Flash Wolves, have the opportunity to play in front of raucuous home crowds. This has the potential to be the most competitive Mid-Season Invitational in League of Legends history.
The 2019 MSI main event kicks off on May 10, 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam at 5:00pm local time on twitch.tv/riotgames.